Format conundrum - MF & LF?
I've been messing with photography for many years now but this year I have really begun to take it seriously as an art and creative outlet. To the end I'm taking a course in B&W developing and printing. Needless to say I'm hooked, big time. I still shoot my color work in digital but B&W has become my focus for my vision. I'm planning on a home darkrooms soon.
Now to my conundrum: I'm going to be investing in LF withing the next year or so. I'm planning on 8X10 and contact printing pretty much exclusively. Right now I'm shooting 35mm. My plan was to get a 6X7 and LF but I'm really wondering if it's worth it to add MF to the equation. The 6X7 is expensive (relatively) and I'd rather put the money toward 8X10. 645 is practically free (especially Bronica) but does it really give me a huge advantage over 35? Most of my printing will probably be 8X10 but I'm planning on capability in my darkroom to go up to 16X20 but I don't see that happening very often. I guess if I was consistently printing at 16X20 MF would be an advantage but I'll loose autofocus and portability with MF. I guess I'm figuring if I going to forgo AF and portability I might as well carry the 8X10 otherwise 35mm will serve me well.
I hope this doesn't seem rambling but I'm trying to not burden myself with gear that I won't use and find out how many of you shoot MF as well as LF and how it fits in to your work.
I still find room for both. My Bronica S2a is an SLR and has flash sync, so it's good for photographing things that move like candid portrait subjects, and it's small enough for handheld use and convenient for casual snapshots. Every system does something well that the others don't do as well.
Your's is not a unique conundrum. Many of us, including me, have been through it. I went to the LF side, first with 4x5, then 8x10, and have never been sorry.
First, I maintain that you can get into LF for the same money, if not substantially less, than MF. Second, the larger the negative, the more information that is recorded. That's a first principle. Third, the movements of a view camera,focusing, and composing through a ground glass are a true joy to work with. Don't worry about losing autofocus; life is much better without it IMO.
Unless lightness and portability are at the top of your list, I would recommend starting with 8x10. Its perhaps the most versatile of all the large formats. Using reducing backs, you can also shoot 5x7, 4x5, plus MF roll film (with the advantage of the view camera movements). If portability is a major factor, go with a 4x5 or 5x7 camera body.
Enlargements: An 8x10 enlarger is a large machine and a substantial investment, but 4x5 and 5x7 enlargers are very reasonable on the used market, and they don't require the amount of space that an 8x10 must occupy. So if you want those 16x20 enlargements, go with 4x5 or 5x7.
Another pure joy of LF is doing macro work. You don't need to buy expensive macro lenses; just use your LF lens and run the bellows out to twice the focal length.
I'm also a big fan of LF Polaroid work. That's an entire subject in itself, but worth mentioning as another world of possibilities with LF.
I still keep a 35mm and a MF camera around, mostly for family events and such. All of my "serious" work is done on LF these days, even the holiday portraits of the kids.
I have something that functions kind of like a medium format for me (cough, digital, cough) that I use often enough even though most of my efforts are directed into LF right now - so I can see how it's useful to have this kind of alternative. I use my rolleiflex and lubitel often enough (more for the sheer fun of using these neat cameras). My smaller format stuff tends to be of the "vacation snapshots" variety, though not always.
One thing to think about is that after using an 8x10, even a 4x5 seems very small and portable so you might consider a little 4x5 field camera and a roll film back instead of the MF rig if portability and lower expense is your goal. This would let you shot 4x5 sheet film or roll film, and have all the nice view camera movements. I presume you're interested in enlarging; does your enlarger permit 4x5? If not, you can probably pick up something like an Omega D5 or D6 for very little money. If you get a lens board adapter for your 8x10 you can use some of your 4x5 lenses on the 8x10 too.
I don't think there's an enormous resolution disadvantage to 4x5 over 8x10 in any realistic sense (except obviously for contact printing and extremely big enlargements). The main reason for 8x10 as far as I'm concerned is big contact prints and funky optics; I'm happy with my 4x5 as far as pure resolution and printing/scanning capability is concerned.
One last note: with the right film / developer combinations (ask around here) you can get results printing up to at least 11x14 from 6x7 negatives that look pretty similar to LF - at least that's my experience looking at the prints my darkroom buddy has been making from his mamiya RB. Definitely a lot nicer than 35mm. I don't have a 6x7 myself. If you already have the enlarger for this it might make more sense than a 4x5 would. You can get a mamiya RB setup for dirt cheap on ebay.
Last edited by walter23; 10-21-2007 at 12:06 AM. Click to view previous post history.
The universe is a haunted house. -Coil
Good Evening, Jim,
"645 is practically free (especially Bronica) but does it really give me a huge advantage over 35?"
I'm not sure I'd call it a huge advantage, but, in my opinion, it is a very significant one. I feel that going from 35mm to 120 (either 6 x 6 or 6 x 4.5) is a bigger quality jump than going from MF to 4 x 5. As the previous responses indicate, however, there are lots of factors to consider, including, especially, what is comfortable for you for the kind of shooting you normally do.
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Shoot the formats you have fun with. 8x10 is a kick in the pants. 35mm for me has become the alternative to digital with point and shoots---great fun at parties and road trips. MF suffices where the 8x10 can't go (along with a speed graphic!) You need to evaluate what YOU want to do. If my choice is between 8x10 and mf, I'd opt for an 8x10---I traded in my 'blad for an 8x10 and haven't looked back (though I later did add a Rolleiflex T to my stable because it was rediculously cheap, along with a meopta 6x6 enlarger and a couple of dozen rolls of verichrome pan---quite honestly the Rolleiflex dosen't get out much)
For me mf is a pleasant diversion, but when I'm playing for keeps I'll take the LF kit every time.
Whatever format you choose, have fun with it!
You seem to be empnasizing your 'vision', which I think is a great idea.
One of the first things you should ask yourself is what image making process best suits your vision and your personality? 35mm, MF and LF are vastly different in their mechanics as well as their formats. The time difference between the 'moment of inspiration' and the 'moment of releasing the shutter' increase exponentially as the format size increases.
Are you the contemplative type who can keep an image in mind for minutes or days or are you the more impulsive type that needs the image recorded in a few seconds? Is your ethic is about full tonal ranges and everything in focus near to far and all lines parallel to the frame and you want maximum sharpness? Or do you need spontaneous intuitve recording of an image with an emphasis on capturing a moment or mood that may be fleeting? For example, consider the work of Lee Friedlander and Ansel Adams. Entirely different visions and each chose different tools to accomplish their vision.
I bring up this point because I find the question of 'should you choose a MF or LF camera' to be curious. If you have a vision and you are clear what it is, then you should be able to choose the camera system using the criteria of which supports your vision the best, not which one is more economical, convenient, etc.
So what I'd suggest is that you really consider the question of what your vision and photographic ethics are. Get very clear on them and see if you can write them down and share them with us. Then we can advise on the selection of a format\system that supports the vision.
Nice topic to post on, it really gets to the heart of photography and why we photograph the we way we do, as far as I'm concerned.
I guess I kind of went all over the map with my previous response.
I think my point was that different formats serve different purposes and you can easily find uses for several formats, but just as easily find you have a lot of unused gear kicking around. I don't think you should go overboard with gear purchases unless you find you really want them - if you want to focus on 8x10 right now, then get into 8x10 and put off the medium format until you find you need it. Those bronica & RB67 deals will still be there on ebay when or if you do decide to go there. I would probably go with 6x7 or 6x9 over 645 though; I found 645 to really be like a glorified 35mm. 6x7 is almost twice the negative area.
You might want to examine why you're interested in 8x10 instead of 4x5 though; are you planning to do off-the-shelf silver paper contact prints? Or are you thinking alternative process stuff? If silver gelatin papers, why not go with 4x5 and get an enlarger? This gives you a reasonably inexpensive and portable format, all the advantages of a view camera, and wicked resolution. Not that I'm dissuading you from 8x10, it's a fantastic format, the optics can get really wild (especially with longer lenses, vintage lenses, and close-up work), etc. It's just that 4x5 is more portable and convenient, and might really be what you'd find most useful if you're deliberating over both 8x10 and MF
The universe is a haunted house. -Coil
IMHO, I'd focus (pun intended) on one format at a time, starting with the one that really tweaks your creative nerve, be it MF or LF and if LF then 8x10, 5x7 4x5 or ?? You'll probably end up there sooner or later---better sooner than later.
If you go with LF then get a smaller MF. The 645 are perfect for this. Something like the RZ67 OTOH is more like a LF in terms of weight etc.
I doubt you'll have any trouble seeing the difference between 35mm and 645. To me a bad 645 11x14 print looks like a good 35mm 4x6 print.
You only lose autofocus and portablity if you go with larger MF. I'm not hung up on autofocus but some MF cameras do provide it. Most of the 645 are light enough they are similar to the pro 35mm in weight.